Showing posts with label alice in chains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alice in chains. Show all posts

Thursday, May 30, 2013

album review: 'the devil put dinosaurs here' by alice in chains

What do you do when a member of your band dies?

It's a question that no act ever wants to consider, but it's a sad fact of life, and being a rock star seems to only shorten that brief span between the cradle and the grave. The hard partying lifestyle, the drug abuse, the bouts of suicidal depression, any one could be enough to kill a musician, and while those musicians are often deified, the question of if/how the band can carry on is an entirely different minefield. Some acts fall apart, never to reform, mostly because the man/woman who died was near the nucleus of the group (Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis of Joy Division, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Freddie Mercury, the list can easily go on). Some acts carry on, and for better or for worse the replacement member will always be compared with the original (Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, Bon Scott of AC/DC, Cliff Burton of Metallica). Unfortunately, many of these talented musicians to replace their fallen originals never really rise out of the shadows (obviously in the list I provided above, all three are highly arguable exceptions).

So thus it proved very interesting when Alice In Chains announced announced their fourth studio album of new material to be released in 2009, featuring the replacement of late lead singer Layne Staley with singer William DuVall. This hadn't the first time a band member had left/been replaced (bassist Mike Inez had replaced Mike Starr in 1994), but Layne Staley had left a long shadow thanks to his role as one of the leading figures of grunge and for his excellent voice. And while DuVall had done a bit of touring with the band, there were many questions whether or not he'd be able to fill Staley's shoes.

Fortunately for everyone, Alice In Chains' fourth album Black Gives Way To Blue turned out to be pretty excellent, and fans embraced DuVall's vocals like AC/DC fans did with Brian Johnson's after Bon Scott's passing. It was the sort of reception that you don't typically see in the hard rock/metal scene, and it spoke of good things to come. And in 2011, fan interest was piqued when it was announced a follow-up album was on the way.

Now, I'll admit straight out of the gate that grunge isn't typically my thing. Sure, I like Pearl Jam and Nirvana and the occasional Bush or Soundgarden song, but I wouldn't exactly qualify it as a genre of choice for me. I tend to feel the same about 'traditional' heavy metal like Metallica and Slayer and Megadeth - I can definitely acknowledge quality when I hear it, but the genre's never really caught my fancy. I mention this because my liking for Alice In Chains significantly more than the majority of their contemporaries on both sides of grunge and heavy metal has always struck me as a bit odd. But really, I think it comes down to a few factors: a strong hook where the guitars and bass complimented the singing, vocals I could actually understand (yes, i can tolerate dirty vocals and growling, but I do like being able to make out the lyrics), and subject matter that was willing to be serious without devolving into undefined rage. Ultimately, that's why I think I like Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains a bit more than their contemporaries, and it helps both bands had a gift for minor key melodies and a bigness of sound that definitely worked to their advantage.

All of these factors are on display with Black Gives Way To Blue, and as a album about dealing with grief and the darkness of the past, Alice In Chains returned in the best possible way by acknowledging and accepting the past while bringing a new singer to the table. And boy, did it pay dividends, with critical acclaim, solid sales, and general fan acceptance, even though it was their heaviest album yet. Some critics even compared some of the riffs to doom metal, and while I wouldn't go that far in the comparison, Black Gives Way To Blue was an album where that tone fits surprisingly well. It's an album about grief and moving on from suffering, and thus it made sense that it was heavier and darker.

So what do I think of Alice In Chains' follow-up, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, coming into a landscape where post-grunge is near-extinct and indie rock now rules the shelves?